Municipal leaders in the town of Menomonee Falls, WI have had their fill of big box stores (see 1/6/00 newsflash), but a nearby town still is enthralled with the big logos. The village of Germantown is clearly split over the prospect of a 121,265 s.f. Home Depot. The store would be built on an extensin of roadway just across the street from a proposed 160,680 s.f. Menard’s building supply store. Germantown must really need a lot of nails! The Village Plan Commission chose not to make a recommendation on the proposal in December, passing it on to the Village Board. The Board voted 5-3 on January 17 to rezone 21.5 acres of land to commercial. As is often the case, the land Home Depot covets is not zoned correctly, so local officials just get out the zoning map and rezone whatever parcel the big company wants. One board member tried to assure the packed public hearing that even though they were clearing away the biggest obstacle to a Home Depot by rezoning, that “we have a lot of kicks at the dog” yet to come.Or will the dog in this case end up kicking the town? Other Board members described commercial development along the roadway as “inevitable”, and said Germantown had fallen behind Menomonee Falls in the big box count. “We’re getting the short end of the tax base,” one Board member told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, without any analyses to back that up. But Board members opposed to Home Depot claimed the company was putting pressure on local property owners to sell their land to the Atlanta-based corporation. Apparently two elderly women who own lots that Home Depot wants are being urged to sell their lots. Board member Michael Stone said these two women should not be forced to sell their property. Home Depot brought in a young woman to the public hearing to speak first. Her comments appalled Board member Stone. “I’m at my wit’s end,” he said. “We’ve seen a 1 year old child used to sway the board. That is just sleazy.” The newspaper reports that those who spoke against Home Depot were more in evidence than those who supported it. “You’ve heard many people say they’ve moved here for the rural atmosphere,” one resident testified. “I haven’t run into anyone who has moved here for the shopping. It’s a quality of life issue.” Another resident said:”We find that the building they build is one of the ugliest buildings you’ve ever seen.”
By one vote, the Village Board rezoned 21.5 acres to commercial. That’s another 21.5 acres of land perhaps forever lost to the corporate bulldozers. And for what? To put up a building supply behemoth right next to another building supply behemoth! And how bizarre is it that the Board is rezoning a piece of land just to suit one potential tenant — who does not even own all the land in question? Local citizens’ groups need to have an attorney in cases like these to be raising the issues of spot zoning, and the fact that the applicant does not even have an option on the land being considered. A rezoning is also the point in time when a citizen group should appeal to the courts, possibly tying the case up for a year or longer. In the meantime, the 5 Board members who voted for this monstrosity should drive over to Menomonee Falls and find out why their neighbors are trying to amend their zoning to place a cap on the size of big stores. It’s not often you get to see your own future coming down the road.